How to Attract Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies begin their northward migration in early spring, when they leave their wintering grounds in Mexico. Along their migration routes in the U.S., the female butterflies seek milkweed plants, upon which to deposits eggs. Milkweeds are the exclusive host plants for Monarchs. The caterpillars that hatch from the eggs will feed and survive only on plants in the Asclepias genus.

Numerous native milkweed species grow across the U.S., maturing and flowering at different times during the growing season. Including several different milkweed species in a garden can help keep monarchs around longer, during the summer months.

Milkweeds are their host plants, but Monarchs need a variety of nectar plants, too. Nectar from a variety of native wildflowers provides the fuel needed to sustain the adult butterflies through the summer breeding season, and see them through their migrations. Make sure to include both milkweeds and nectar plants in a Monarch waystation plan.

A one hundred square foot garden of native plants is a good sized garden for Monarch support (10'x10'). Alternatively, a few well chosen native plants may be added to an existing garden – including a few clusters of milkweeds. The top three elements needed for a Monarch Waystation are:

  1. LOCATION. A good butterfly spot receives 6 hours or more of full sun a day. Ideally, the location will give shelter from the wind as well. The sunny side of a garage or along a solid fence in the sun offers enough protection. Any well-drained soil is acceptable.
  2. HOST PLANTS. Include at least two plants from the Asclepias genus (milkweed or butterflyweed) for host plants. The Asclepias species that you choose will depend upon your soil:
  3. NECTAR PLANTS. Adult Monarch butterflies need nectar from a variety of native plants. The nectar provides energy to the adult butterflies and fuels their flight. Fall-blooming natives such as asters and goldenrods are very important. The Monarchs need as much fuel as they can get on their long flight back to Mexico, in the Fall.

Now Select Your Plants!

Each of these options includes both host plants (milkweeds) and nectaring plants.

  • Pre-Planned Monarch Habitat Gardens. We’ve done the planning for you! Our pre-planned Monarch Gardens include a planting design, instructions and high plant diversity. Just choose the size and soil type that best fits your site.
  • Shop for individual plants from our list of Monarch Favorites. If you're looking for a few Monarch magnets, all of the natives on this list are highly sought by Monarchs, including both host and nectar plants.
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